If one is lucky enough to find him or herself in an interview with a potential employer, there are always a certain number of generic questions and conversation topics one should anticipate. It is to be expected than an interview will begin with a “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” or perhaps “Tell me about your work history,” and a subsequent “Why did you leave your last position?” Somewhere in this rhetorical transition it is also very likely that one will be asked about his or her strengths and weaknesses.
This information is not unbeknownst to the avid or even well-prepared interviewee, and having well-rehearsed responses to each of these generalities will help ease nerves and facilitate focus on some of the more challenging questions with which one may be approached. Amidst that advanced preparation, however, one must be very careful about how responses are phrased and what ideas the spouted generalities may assume.
The first question mentioned, “Tell me a little bit about yourself,” is, realistically, done for the benefit of the interviewee: after all, people are generally very comfortable talking about themselves and enjoy doing so. This question gets the person talking and, hopefully, feeling comfortable. Likewise, the majority of people are happy to laud themselves, and therefore have little discomfort when expressing their strengths: it is one’s weaknesses to which many find difficulty making admission. These responses may require a slightly increased amount of preparation.
A very common tactic when disclosing one’s weaknesses (one admittedly used by myself on more than one occasion) is to express oneself as having an excessive amount of a positive trait or as overusing a skill or competency. This may seem like a safe strategy, but there are still pitfalls waiting with this tactic.
Here are some of the more common overused skills and weaknesses and how an employer may recognize these as detrimental, counterproductive, or even unconquerable traits — characteristics that may prevent you from moving on in the interview process.
The most damaging response is obvious: “I have no weaknesses.”
If one were to ever give this response, the interview might as well end immediately. To suggest that one has no weaknesses, or believing that he or she is perfect, shows a complete lack of self-awareness: everyone has faults. This response does not just indicate the massiveness of one’s ego, but it also suggests an unwillingness to learn, to respect authority, accept constructive criticism, or adhere to guidelines outside his or her own.
“I am too analytical,” or “I am a perfectionist.”
Even if one is applying for an analysis-related position, either of these responses can be dangerous. Either of these characteristics indicates that one will overthink most details and, as a result, have a significant amount of trouble making a decision or reaching a conclusion. This trait may suggest that one will create more work for him or herself than necessary and therefore struggle to meet required timelines. This person will never be satisfied with any end result and he or she may also have difficulty trusting instincts irrespective of past history or experience with a particular situation.
“I am too accommodating.”
This type of person will likely be seen as a doormat. If one is too accommodating or too nice, that person is unlikely to express his or her opinion and will certainly not stand up for them if faced with any contradiction. This person is likely to become a lackey for others and become overworked; he or she has very little potential as a future leader and will be unable to manage others.
“I am a workaholic,” or “I find it difficult to make enough time for leisure activities.”
There are certain professions for which this may be a demand of the position, but more and more employers are pushing the concept of work-life balance as they have a better understanding of the long-term effects of over-working their employees. If an employer is seeking a long-term employee, they are not searching for one who is likely to burn out quickly. One who cannot create a work-life balance for him or herself will often become unnecessarily stressed at the workplace or bring the stress from home into the office. He or she will likely find that efficiency or productivity diminishes and potentially he or she may even become actively disengaged and cause detriment to the remainder of the office.
The bottom line is this: everyone has faults and there is no shame in admitting weaknesses. However, both the phrasing of said weaknesses and the resolutions for improvement must be approached with great care. None of the aforementioned responses (with the exception of the first) are inexcusable, and most of them, on their own, will not create a lack of progression through the interview process.
Regardless of whether or not the interviewer generously supplies the follow-up question of “What are you doing to help improve upon those weaknesses?” every job-seeker should be prepared to genuinely volunteer this information. Employers are looking for employees who are self-aware enough to know and be comfortable with his or her weaknesses, but also those who are actively working to improve upon themselves and surmount shortcomings.
Ultimately, a person who has an active plan and sets goals to overcome his or her recognized weaknesses will also likely be able to recognize weaknesses or gaps in the organization and suggest a resolution to improve upon them as well…and as a result, he or she is more likely going to be one that an employer wants as part of the team due to his or her general strides towards improvement.
Jared Kohn is a marketing professional in Tampa, FL who spent five years studying consumer buying behavior with top companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Sprint. More recently, he has developed both regional and national new product launches for Coca-Cola. Contact him on LinkedIn or friend him on Facebook.